Put 250,000 people ready to party and ignorant of local rules in a 20-block radius and you end up with one mess bigger than a teenage girl’s car. Yet, this is the scenario that Miami Beach has to deal with one weekend a year since 2001 during the animated Urban Beach Weekend that takes place around Memorial Day.
Every year, club owners, hotels, restaurants, and residents gear up for a series of celebrations that feature hundreds of hip-hop, R&B, and reggae artists in the famous South Beach neighborhood. But most locals worry about is not the quality of the drinks. It is the tiring need of an almost-tyrannical layer of added security.
In 2012, the Urban Beach Weekend ended with 400 arrests. This was considered one of the lowest figures since 2001, which does not mean there will be a decrease in police presence. All 400 Miami Beach officers will be present throughout the weekend and 200 more police officers from outside agencies, such as the Hialeah Police Department and State Troopers, will be added.
As if that wasn’t enough, the City has installed license plate readers, DUI checkpoints, watch towers and bright lights to illuminate Lummus Park and keep law-breakers away. Ocean Drive, the folkloric street where all the fuss will happen from Thursday to Monday, is closed to drivers while Washington Avenue and Collins Avenue will become one-way lanes, transforming a 10-minute drive into an hour-long nightmare.
This year’s innovations include 18 live cameras that will be monitored 24 hours a day to detect possible criminal activities. Another creation is the $140,000 LTV, a military vehicle unveiled to CBS by the Miami Beach Police Department with infrared technology and the capacities of a war machine.
In total, the security costs to the city will amount to as much as $1.5 million, and no real estimate has been given about the price tag that will come from the after-party clean-up.
After all of this, the only safe thing might be to assume that crime rates won’t decrease anyways. Two years ago, one individual driving carelessly was shot over 100 times by police officers and abuses are still likely to happen. So why is an event so dreaded by residents still happening in Miami Beach? Because it is not a city event, it is a private one.
In other words, the City does not sponsor any of the venues of Urban Beach Weekend. Instead, the hundreds of private enterprises making up South Beach are competing for partying customers and keep adding customer-attracting events. Security is needed because businesses don’t want to deal with window-breaking muggers constantly so they appeal to the public police.
Businesses pass on the cost of security to taxpayers. This is nothing more than a pure subsidy that allows private venues to be reckless with the health of the community. Of course, the answer is not, as some have proposed, to make Urban Beach Weekend a city-sponsored event as this would be another taxpayer money waste.
Instead, something drastic should be done if we want to deal efficiently with the crime crisis during the Memorial Day Weekend. It does not involve civil liberties violations, police abuses, ACLU complaints, or $140,000 military vehicles. The solution is for the City of Miami Beach to do nothing.
Keeping the same number of police officers in the streets as any other weeknight will not lead to serious chaos and disorder. Businesses and residents want to feel, want to be safe above all. They would have to provide for their own security services, appeal to voluntary crime watches, private security guards, armed guards, etc.
What if businesses can’t come up with the $1.5 million to equalize the City’s current contributions? That would be the whole point. Businesses would have to cut down on their raging parties, restaurants would have to limit their capacities, and residents would push private companies to deal responsibly. At the end of the day, Miami Beach will end up with less events, less visitors, and less criminals.
The Urban Beach Weekend is a serious problem, and as virtually all other community issues, it roots in government’s inefficiencies. The market is a place that strives for peace and stability and we are sure that a disturbance such as the high crime wave of Memorial Day in Miami Beach would not be a trouble at all.